Blurred Boundaries and Strategic Surveillance: Regulating Behaviour in Bristol’s Commercialised Spaces

Jonathan Fuller


This article explores how models of architecture, surveillance, and ownership define commercialised spaces, and in turn dictate how these spaces are experienced – not only by their users but also by the ethnographer. I argue that the supposedly inclusive and open design of Cabot Circus in the city centre of Bristol, UK, has resulted in a privatised, impersonal and exclusionary shopping centre. Its mode of operation and regulation threatens to encroach on the adjacent publicly accessible commercial area of Broadmead, through events like the Christmas market, which blurs the boundaries between the two environments. By reflecting on the difficulties I faced as an ethnographer when attempting to conform to my expected role in the space as an active and visible participant, I suggest that power has become so deeply embedded in the contemporary shopping centre that an innovative and reflexive methodological approach is necessary to capture the true machinations of the privatisation of urban public space. By directing attention towards recent efforts to privatise law enforcement and regulate visitor behaviour in these reconfigured commercialised spaces, this research also raises more ‘fundamental questions about how urban citizenship and social exclusion are defined’, simultaneously exposing the ‘importance of consumption… to daily urban life’ (Flint, 2002: 66).


public space, urban regeneration; privatisation; surveillance; consumption

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The JUE is a peer-reviewed online journal that publishes original ethnographic research by undergraduates working in a variety of disciplines. Submissions are welcomed. Contact the Editor, Karen McGarry.

ISSN 2369-8721